Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders affect your jaw joint and surrounding muscles, causing symptoms like pain, discomfort, and jaw movement problems. While TMJ challenges are often considered an adult issue, they can affect children too.
In fact, up to 68% of children experience TMJ disorders — and as a parent, it’s important to recognize the signs. Some children may outgrow TMJ issues, but you shouldn’t wait to see if the problem goes away on its own.
Walied Touni, DDS, MSD, and our team at Touni Orthodontics in Sunnyvale, California, specialize in TMJ treatment and pediatric orthodontics, and we’re here to help you find the best treatment to manage your child’s symptoms.
Here’s what you need to know about TMJ disorders in children and how treatment can offer relief and support their dental health.
Identifying the signs of childhood TMJ disorders
The symptoms of TMJ disorders, including jaw clenching and teeth grinding, can vary. Identifying TMJ disorders in children can be challenging, but here are some common signs to look for:
- Chewing problems
- Difficulty opening and closing their mouth
- Clicking or popping sounds
- Jaw pain
- Facial pain
- Facial swelling
If your child has a TMJ disorder, they may complain of jaw pain or discomfort, especially when chewing or speaking. They might struggle to chew or avoid certain foods that require extensive chewing.
You might also notice other symptoms, like limited jaw movement or clicking, popping, or grating sounds when your child moves their jaw to eat or yawn. Sometimes, TMJ issues can cause pain that spreads beyond your child’s jaw, including their face, ears, and head.
Treatment options for TMJ disorders in children
If your child suffers from jaw clenching, teeth grinding, or other TMJ issues, schedule a dental evaluation. Untreated TMJ disorders can increase their risk of oral health issues, and treatment is the best way to relieve their symptoms and protect their health.
We take a multidisciplinary approach to managing childhood TMJ problems. We do an oral exam, review your child’s medical history, and work with you and the rest of your child’s health care team to develop an appropriate treatment plan.
Depending on your child’s needs, we may recommend:
In mild cases, Dr. Touni might suggest simple lifestyle changes. Avoiding hard or chewy foods, reducing excessive jaw movements, and practicing relaxation techniques can help minimize teeth grinding and clenching.
Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can temporarily alleviate pain and discomfort caused by TMJ issues.
Dr. Touni might also recommend a dental appliance, like a mouthguard or splint. Wearing a guard at night can help alleviate excessive pressure on your child’s TMJ and prevent teeth grinding. In some cases, orthodontic treatment may be necessary to correct dental misalignments or bite issues that contribute to TMJ disorders.
In more severe cases, working with a pediatric physical therapist can help resolve your child’s TMJ issues. The therapist can provide exercises and therapies to strengthen their jaw muscles and improve jaw movement.
If teeth grinding or clenching is a significant issue for your child, behavioral therapy can help them break these habits. If mental stress is a contributing factor, stress management techniques, like relaxation exercises or counseling, can also be helpful.
Along with treating acute TMJ symptoms, remember to bring your child to the dentist regularly for routine care. Regular dental checkups are the best way to identify any early signs of TMJ issues, misalignments, and other oral health problems so they can get the treatment they need.
It’s true that some children may outgrow TMJ issues with time, but early identification and treatment are still crucial. If you notice any signs of TMJ disorders in your child, schedule an appointment with Dr. Touni and our team. Call our office today or book online anytime.